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FEBRUARY 29, 2008    

Would you like fries with your Visual Communication?

Coffee on table in McDonald'sI stopped at Mickey D's after my doctor's appointment, my reward to myself this week.

I sat down with a Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap and coffee to read more of Visual Literacy: Image, Mind & Reality by Paul Messaris. I've been learning about how our brain makes sense of the patterns of light and dark it receives from our eyes, a topic I've been discussing more frequently in Intro to Visual Communications class. The eye is simply a camera lens that collects information in the form of light and dark. The brain gives these patterns meaning.

The biggest Aha! for me has been that our brain uses a sort of scrapbook that stores simplified structural models of familiar objects from the real world as its first step in identifying the pattern it's getting from the eyes. If you think about what's required to recognize a person from the pattern of light and dark that the brain gets from the eyes, you can see how complex it is...

People come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They can be standing sitting, leaning, stretching, crouching or in any position, and they can be facing any direction. If the brain needed an exact matching image to know it was seeing a person, its scrapbook would have to contain an impossibly large number of variations. Messaris' belief is that the brain stores basic structural models, sort of three-dimensional stick figures. As long as the pattern it gets is pretty close to that model, the brain can identify what it's seeing.

Messaris explains:

This...would account for a viewer's ability to interpret "composite" pictures (e.g. the Michelin man, a "human" composed of tires), children's drawings (in which an undifferentiated circle may stand for a torso and another circle for the head, and "bad" drawings (in which no individual detail may match the appearance of the represented object but the overall structure is closer to that of the object than to anything else). —pg.59

Child's drawing of a dogThis made me thing of the charming picture my grandson Jack recently drew of the family's Labrador retriever Clavey. As my daughter points out, he's missing ears and a tail—and he's got a very un-canine smile on his face—but his head, body and four legs make him a dog.

Yup. Sure does.



Cover of Visual Literacy by Paul MessarisIf this is interesting to you,
I highly recommend the book.
I got a used copy from Amazon
for about $10.

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